Filipinos: the water lily of God’s garden

Jeremiah 29:4-7

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.

If you look at the details of this Scripture passage, the connection to either Filipinos or a water lily is difficult to imagine. However, if you step back and look at the “big picture” you’ll find it begins to make sense.

This verse comes from a letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the elders whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon. While all the false prophets were saying that God would deliver them immediately, Jeremiah was instructing them to settle down, build houses, get married, start families – not to await their return to Israel, but to increase in this foreign land.

Now the similarity begins to appear. Most of the people in the Diocese of Europe are Filipinos in a “foreign” land – not captives certainly, but still led (“carried away”) by the Lord into our various countries to settle down, build houses, have children, get married … to build a life.

So what about the water lily? Of all the nationalities and cultures I have encountered in my life, Filipinos have the strongest sociological ties – ties that bind Filipinos who are not related by blood or marriage. In fact, two Filipinos encountering one another in just about any setting in any foreign country, though they have never met before, immediately discern their common heritage, waste no time in exchanging greetings, and dive right in to discussing their family origins and current situations. There is an almost magnetic attraction that not only pulls them together but, if circumstances allow, keep them together over time. So it is with most of our churches.

Though the leaves and flowers of the lily float on the surface of the water, the connection between them lies below in a root system buried in the soft mud. If a storm uproots the plant and moves it some metres away, the roots can re-establish themselves so the lily will continue to grow.

Our CEC churches in Europe are like water lilies: our fellowship lies primarily in a shared Filipino culture; our connections are strong and below the surface; we meet in a place that is convenient to our parish members, and if by storm or for some other reason we are uprooted from that place we are able to establish ourselves in a new place. These characteristics have helped us to stay strong and weather many storms in the last 30 years.

This also contributes to a sense of separation between us and the people among whom we live and work. For example, even though the English are a proud people with a long heritage, they do not have that same sense of immediate connection with other Englishmen simply because they are English: acceptance, yes, but connection, no.

To establish a connection with the peoples of the country in which we are living, and to build relationships with them which can open doors for Christian ministry and evangelism, we must move beyond the “water lily” stage and put down roots into the soil of our communities. This is a two-pronged effort: (1) getting to know our immediate neighbors and co-workers, establishing friendships, and hosting cell groups, and (2) obtaining a place for the church to meet that is our own, that is identified uniquely with us, where we can be present throughout the week rather than just for a few hours on Sunday. We need to put roots down deep into solid soil like a tree rather than into mud like a water lily. We need to be established in a place among the people of our community where they can come to us when they need help and ministry.

A water lily is hardy and lovely, but it will not support the weight of a person. A tree, on the other hand, provides shade and protection. Our children and grandchildren will be able to climb it and sit in its branches, and it will provide fruit for all who come.

Let us pray for the peace of the city where the Lord has caused to settle, and pray that He would plant us deep and strong in the middle of our communities for the glory of His Name and the growth of His Kingdom.

Let us pray for the peace of the city where the Lord has caused to settle, and pray that He would plant us deep and strong in the middle of our communities for the glory of His Name and the growth of His Kingdom. Non nobis Domine+ by Fr. Dana Jackson

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